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Cory Lidle Celebrity Charity Poker Tournament

by Thomas Keller |  Published: Feb 11, 2005


I recently participated in the Cory Lidle Celebrity Charity Poker Tournament in Las Vegas, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation and tsunami relief efforts. The tournament was a huge success, drawing 103 players and raising more than $20,000 for charity. If you are not familiar with the name Cory Lidle, he is a starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and an avid poker enthusiast. The tournament was run by the seemingly ubiquitous Matt Savage. It was a $1,100 buy-in event that featured a celebrity at every starting table. The list of celebrity players included Cory Lidle, Adam Dunn of the Cincinnati Reds, Eric Chavez of the Oakland A's, Mike Lieberthal of the Philadelphia Phillies, Ron McKinnon of the Arizona Cardinals, Kenny Bartram – freestyle motocross rider, William August – star of My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, Tom Wilson – Major League Baseball (MLB) free agent, Scott Erickson – MLB free agent, Bret Saberhagen – two-time Cy Young award winner, Shawn Wooten of the Philadelphia Phillies, Terry Jackson of the San Francisco 49er's, Lisa Guerrero – sportscaster/actress, Randy Wolf of the Philadelphia Phillies, and me.

The structure was fast-paced, with 20-minute levels, $25-$25 blinds to start, and $1,000 in chips. There was a one-time rebuy option for another $1,000 in chips that could be exercised anytime during the first four levels. Many players, including myself, chose to rebuy immediately so that we would have at least a few chips to work with. My strategy going into this tournament was to try to see lots of flops early and give myself a chance to outplay my inexperienced opponents. Unfortunately, the very quick structure of the tournament clashed with that strategy, forcing me to play several big pots throughout the tournament.

One of these pots occurred when about five players limped in to my big blind, and I looked down to see A-7 offsuit. This is a situation in which I would typically check, but given how weak I thought the opposition was – they limped in frequently with garbage – and the $1,500 already in the pot, I believed I had to make a move. I went all in, raising it several thousand more, and the under-the-gun limper began to ponder and count his chips. It was pretty obvious that he did not want to call, but he remembered that they had put a $500 bounty on me since I was the only celebrity pro poker player, so he finally ended up calling, having me slightly covered. The rest of the field behind him folded, and I meekly turned over my A-7. To my surprise, he showed the Khearts Jhearts, and I was actually the favorite. I was pretty shocked that he had called off almost all of his chips with king high and several people yet to act behind him, but then again, this was a charity event, and I did have a $500 bounty on my head. Luckily, the board came all babies and my ace high held up.

Shortly after this hand, another big pot developed in which three of us saw a flop with me holding the Khearts Jhearts this time. The flop came Q-10-2 with the Qhearts, and I quickly went all in to try to pick up the already sizable pot. Surprisingly, both of my opponents called (I had them both slightly covered), and we all flipped our cards over. One opponent had K-Q for a pair of queens, and the other had Q-2 for top and bottom pair. Needless to say, I needed some help to win this pot. The turn brought an interesting card, the 10hearts, now giving the K-Q the lead but giving me more outs with a flush draw as well as two outs to a straight flush. The large crowd watching our table had definitely grown during this monster pot, and they erupted when the Ahearts came on the river, giving me my first royal flush in a live tournament and making me one of the chip leaders as I sent two more players to the rail!

I got to the final table with a small chip lead, busting several of the celebrity players on my way, including Cory himself. Sorry I had to bust you, Cory, but at least the tournament turned out to be a huge success. I just hope you remember to invite me back next year!

After we got down to sevenhanded, I went pretty card dead and my chip stack quickly dwindled due to the enormous blinds and antes that we were facing. Finally, I got K-J offsuit and raised about two and a half times the big blind. The big blind called my raise and checked to me on the Q-10-3 rainbow flop. With only a few more chips than the pot contained, I decided to move all in in hope of winning the pot right there or of having a decent number of outs to double up if he called. He thought for a while and finally called with the Qspades 8spades, and he had me covered by a meager $300. Two blanks rolled off and I went out in sixth place, earning $4,700 for my efforts, of which I happily donated a substantial portion to the charity pool.

In this tournament, I had to beat K-J and win with K-J, and I came up short the last time, but it was great fun and a very positive experience. Thanks to all the celebrities, players, and spectators who turned out and made this event such a success, and a special thanks goes to Cory Lidle for all of his time and energy in spearheading this tournament. I definitely look forward to playing in the tournament next year, and perhaps next year's tournament will exceed the considerable amount of money raised this year.

Kelly Flynn from Denver, Colorado, went on to win the event, and took home more than $30,000. Matt Rogers, the 11th-place finisher in last year's American Idol competition, and former University of Washington linebacker, played a strong game and finished third, winning around $10,000. To learn more about what you can do to help either of these causes, check out or spades

Thomas "Thunder" Keller is a 23-year-old professional poker player and one of poker's young and rising stars. He can often be found playing at under the name gummybear. To learn more about him, go to his website at